Today's parents are beset by anxieties about providing our children with the 'right' development opportunities that will prepare them for "success". The current children of the developed world are the most over-regulated, over-organised, busiest children in human history - and some would argue, also the most limited. The greatest of these limitations is not being able to roam freely in Nature. Fear for children's safety and dwindling Nature are just two of the reasons why children of today spend far less unsupervised time outdoors than their parents did. The commercialisation of childhood is another major factor. Indoor play areas have become big business in the same way that video and TV products evermore replace a child's primary experience of the world.
In his influential book, 'Last Child in the Woods', Richard Loev proposes that in fact enabling our children to play freely in Nature every day, come rain or shine, is one of the greatest things we can do to prepare them for fulfilling adult lives. He presents a vast array of studies that indicate that unstructured Nature play impacts positively on physical, cognitive and emotional development. For instance, a comparative study of pre-schoolers in Norway and Sweden showed that children in a 'green' playschool who spent most of their school time rambling outside in a natural setting had significantly better physical prowess than their counterparts who were engaged in some organised physical activity on a level playground. The Nature children, who ran and tumbled over uneven ground, climbed trees, waded in water and built forts in long grass had better muscle tone and strength, greater balance and co-ordination skills.
Physical development may be the most obvious benefit. However, Nature play is also increasingly being used with promising results as either an alternative or supplementary therapy for children diagnosed with ADHD. Parents involved in these studies report both the immediate calming affect of Nature on their children and an increased capacity to focus after Nature experiences. In a world with an increasing demand for innovation, it may also trigger the ambitions of some parents to know that studies show that children who play often in Nature show markedly greater capacities for quality creativity.
Scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson uses his "biophilia" hypothesis to argue that humans have a biological need to "affiliate with other forms of life" - that is, a physical connection to the natural world is fundamental to our individual development.